Week 1 of Weinstein trial: Vile allegations, X-rated gifts

Posted at 9:43 AM, Jan 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-25 09:43:04-05

NEW YORK (AP) -- Harvey Weinstein trundled into court this week for the start of a New York City rape trial, facing the prospect of a conviction that could put him in prison for the rest of his life.

Within the first three days of the (hash)MeToo-era trial, the once-heralded Hollywood titan whom prosecutors described as a "predatory monster" came face-to-face with an accuser who testified in vivid detail about an alleged rape more than two decades ago. Weinstein, 67, denies the allegations.

The trial, underway 839 days after the first of his scores of accusers went public, is expected to last about a month. It has already featured several notable moments -- and a few odd twists.


Actress Annabella Sciorra, the key prosecution witness so far, fought back tears Thursday as she told jurors that Weinstein bulldozed his way into her Manhattan apartment, shoved her onto her bed and raped her in 1993 or 1994.

Sciorra, now 59, said she tried in vain to get the burly film producer off her by kicking and punching him.

"I was trying to fight, but I could not fight anymore," she said.

The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they have been victims of sexual assault, unless they come forward publicly.

Sciorra also testified that, on one occasion, Weinstein gifted her X-rated candies -- penis-shaped chocolates -- and on another, showed up at her hotel door at the Cannes Film Festival in his underwear with a bottle of oil in one hand and a videotape in the other.


Weinstein lawyer Donna Rotunno closed Sciorra's cross-examination with a clip of the actress on David Letterman's talk show in which she playfully told the host that she often made up stories to enliven movie press junkets.

It seemed like a ploy to tarnish Sciorra's credibility, but in the 1997 clip, she went on to explain that those fibs involved inane things like claiming her father raised iguanas for circuses.

After it played, she assured jurors she would never lie about something as serious as sexual assault.

Smoking gun or not, how Weinstein's lawyers got hold of the clip is a fascinating tale in and of itself.

It came not from Letterman's production company or CBS, but from a superfan who says he has taped and digitized every episode from Letterman's 33-year career in late-night television.

In a blog post, Don Giller said he turned over the video after a private investigator working for the defense showed up at his door with a subpoena Wednesday night.

Giller wrote that, after a bit of confusion, he realized, "It was the Harvey Weinstein case, and for some bizarre reason I was somehow involved in it."

Giller said he felt "awful" assisting Weinstein's defense, but felt he had no choice but to give up the recording.

"Still, what I was legally compelled to do will haunt me for a long time," he wrote. "I hope Sciorra's testimony prevails."


Actress Rosie Perez made a brief appearance in court on Friday to corroborate her friend Sciorra's testimony that they had talked about the alleged rape shortly after it happened.

Prosecutors called Perez to the witness stand to show that, while Sciorra kept the matter mostly to herself for many years, she did share it with a few people close to her at the time.

Perez told jurors that, during one conversation, Sciorra started whispering that something bad had happened to her. Perez said Sciorra started crying and told her, "I think it was rape."

Weinstein's lawyers have suggested Sciorra waited so long to go public with the allegation because she was making it up.


Sciorra is one of six accusers expected to testify against Weinstein. That's just a fraction of the number of women who have come forward in recent years to accuse him of sexual assault or harassment.

The others who will take the witness stand are the two women whose allegations led to the criminal charges at the heart of the case and three other women whose testimony, like Sciorra's, is meant to show that Weinstein has repeatedly engaged in similar behavior.

The charges against Weinstein pertain to allegations he forcibly performed oral sex on former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in his New York apartment in 2006 and that he raped an aspiring actress in a hotel room in 2013.

In her opening statement, prosecutor Meghan Hast told jurors that the rape accuser found a needle after the alleged assault and realized Weinstein had injected himself to get an erection.

Weinstein has insisted any sexual encounters were consensual.

His lawyers are focusing on warm emails and other evidence they say show some of the women continued to interact with Weinstein after the alleged attacks.

Another part of the defense strategy has been to spin blame back on his accusers: for instance, asking Sciorra on cross-examination why she didn't flee or call 911 when Weinstein arrived.

Prosecutors called a forensic psychiatrist who testified at the 2018 retrial that led to Bill Cosby's sexual assault conviction in Pennsylvania as a witness, aiming to dispel myths about how victims behave in the aftermath of assaults.

Dr. Barbara Ziv has described herself as an expert on "sexual assault victim behavior" but hasn't evaluated Weinstein's accusers. She said most sex assault victims continue to have contact with their attackers, who often threaten retaliation if the victims tell anyone what happened. Victims are "hoping this is just an aberration" and they can also end up blaming themselves, Ziv testified Friday.


So far, Weinstein's trial has attracted a swarm of media attention, but none of the protesters who crowded outside during jury selection, chanting things like "The rapist is you!"

Dozens of cameras were there Wednesday to track Weinstein's walker-aided movements in and out of the courthouse for opening statements and the start of testimony, as reporters from as far away as Australia narrated the scene.

Inside, a group of about two dozen teens on a school trip from Cambridge, England, tried getting in on the spectacle but were turned away because the courtroom was at capacity.

Meanwhile, a different sort of drama was unfolding down the street from the courthouse that chilly morning as a crew shot scenes for the CBS series "FBI."


Even in the dead of winter, some of the windows in the massive, New Deal-era courthouse are being kept open so the packed courtroom doesn't overheat.

That means exchanges between lawyers and witnesses are sometimes drowned out by the wail of sirens from passing police cars, firetrucks and ambulances.

"Sorry, it's very hard to hear," Sciorra said Thursday as a noisy emergency vehicle rolled by, 15 stories below.

By the end of the day, it was Weinstein himself who was taking heat for making noise.

Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon admonished the defendant for chattering away as she addressed the judge after the jury of seven men and five women had gone home for the day.

"It is hard to hear with defendant talking so loud," she said. "It is hard to concentrate on what I'm doing, if he can stop talking for 30 seconds."

Weinstein hushed up.


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